Wow! Universal Service Funds are Hoarding Over $12 Billion in ICT4D Funding

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The concept of Universal Service is pretty simple: telecommunications services should be accessible to the widest number of people at affordable prices. We can break it down into three principles:

  • Availability: the level of service is the same for all users in their place of work or residence, at all times and without geographical discrimination
  • Affordability: for all users, the price of the service should not be a factor that limits service access
  • Accessibility: all telephone subscribers should be treated in a non-discriminatory manner with respect to the 
price, service and quality of the service, in all places, without distinction of race, sex, religion, etc.

Most countries support the concept of Universal Service through Universal Service Fees from telecommunications service providers, who often pass the costs on to consumers. Governments should use USF to incentivize Universal Service by the telecom operators through various means, of which ICT4D programs would form a large percentage of their efforts.
There is only one problem.
A recent GSMA study found that less that 50% of the USF funds collected have been disbursed. That adds up to $12 billion in potential ICT4D funding that’s not being used by governments to improve the digital lives of their citizens.
Another study by the ITU found 14 different reasons that USF fees are not being investing in ICT4D, including everything from the underlying legal and regulatory framework, to changing requirements and focus, to the omission of broadband deployment.
It might not surprise you that one of the ITU recommendation is for countries to establish independent units to manage USFs in a transparent, autonomous and competitive manner. Telcos are understandably annoyed that they’re paying into a fund that’s not being used.
Question is: with so much potential funding hoarded in USF, why are we not jumping up and down in screaming fits trying to get it spent?